Palm Oil and Politics
There are some cosmetics (and food) ingredients that invoke passionate reactions from people. In recent years, several have been spotlighted, inspiring protest groups, lobbyists, and media campaigns.
Today, we're going to take a look at the politics of palm oil production.
Palm Oil or Palm Kernel Oil?The fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis, Elaeis oleifera or Attalea maripa) is used for 2 different oils. Palm oil is made from the fruit, while palm kernel oil is made from the kernel. Both oils have multiple uses, but the higher content of lauric fatty acids in palm kernel oil makes it a preferred choice for soaps and personal care products.
Creating AwarenessAs is often the case with 'awareness campaigns', it's all about maximizing the message. This is optimally achieved by using methods similar to advertising or political campaigns – a cleverly crafted catch phrase paired with just the right graphic has a much better chance of going viral than an essay or report.
Sometimes the arguments are valid, but sometimes they are exaggerated to the point of barely approaching the truth.
It can be hard to differentiate.
One thing is certain: if logic, facts, and deliberation are completely left out of the equation, it is difficult – if not impossible – to find a solution to any situation regardless of how much 'awareness' there is on the subject.
The Palm Oil ProtestThe anti-palm-oil folks will tell you that palm oil production is destroying the natural habitat of orangutans, poisoning people, and raping the planet. In some areas, they have so successfully vilified palm oil that consumers will confess to feeling guilty about buying anything containing palm oil.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not dismissing this issue – there are valid points that deserve consideration.
What irks me is the way the palm oil protesters are marketing their viewpoint. It's far too easy to sell fear.
Arriving at a viable solution takes a lot more thought and commitment than 'refusing to buy anything with palm oil'.
It's simply not that cut and dry.
A Few Palm Oil FactsPalm oil production uses only 5% of the worlds oil-producing land area, yet yields 34% of the worlds vegetable oil. That's nearly 6 times more per hectare than the next highest yielding vegetable oil: rapeseed.
Just for comparison:
- Rapeseed produces 3/4 of a ton of oil from 1 hectare of land
- Palm produces over 4 tons of oil from 1 hectare of land
So What If...
If we were to replace palm oil with the other major oil-producing plants (rapeseed, cottonseed, coconut, soybean, sunflower, peanut), the amount of land it would take to grow and harvest the same yield would cause other environmental concerns.
Consider rapeseed – the second highest yielding oil-producing plant – which requires more use of pesticides than palm oil production. Now, multiply the necessary crop growing land area by 6 times and don't forget the additional pesticides.
Hmmm - that could be a problem, couldn't it?
Let's try to look at the bigger picture before we throw palm oil production in the dumpster, shall we?
My (main) Inspiration For This PostIf you're interested in reading more on this subject by a cosmetics scientist who does her darndest to look at the bigger picture, I can recommend the following articles by Amanda Fox at her blog, Realize Beauty
Let's not boycott palm oil
Why boycotting palm oil is as shortsighted as me without my glasses on.
The politics of feed stock – in search of a palm free cosmetic
More Related LinksRSPO: The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
How successful is RSPO palm oil certification? (article in The Guardian)
Do TellDo you look for palm oil free products?
Photo of palm oil production from Wikipedia